Despite playing with no fear and managing 60% possession, Reading fell to a 2-0 defeat against Manchester United in the FA Cup. You wouldn’t have thought that the Royals were Championship strugglers and, in the end, the scoreline massively flattered Solskjaer’s side.
Fearless Reading Thwarted by Solskjaer’s Resurgent Manchester United
Right from the start, Reading moved the ball around well and refused to shy away from the occasion. Although they came away with the victory and a clean sheet, Manchester United’s renaissance of late wasn’t on show today. The Red Devils were largely passive and relied on the counter-attack to create opportunities, in stark contrast to Reading’s clean, attractive and forward-thinking style of play. That being said, the old saying rings true: the only statistic that matters is the scoreline.
Nevertheless, this raises several questions. Solskjaer’s arrival was supposed to signify an upheaval of Mourinho’s uninspiring style, replaced by a brand of potent attacking football. Today, however, Manchester United’s style of play was incredibly disappointing and pedestrian. Perhaps this is over-critical, but this encounter was an opportunity to build momentum going into a crucial clash against Spurs. It must be noted that Solskjaer rung the changes, but numerous big names and ever-presents still featured – and they underwhelmed. If Reading were more clinical, then it might have been a totally different story.
An Anticlimactic Afternoon
Solksjaer openly admitted that his side’s performance was worse than the result suggests. Post-match, Juan Mata stated that his side weren’t comfortable and that “it wasn’t a game to remember”. Reading had more possession, superior passing accuracy and, on the whole, their football was more pleasing on the eye. Nevertheless, Manchester United were able to secure a fifth successive victory despite making nine changes. Albeit makeshift, imperfect and untested, victory and a clean sheet against a hungry Championship side is a promising sign.
The difference, ultimately, was clinical finishing. Reading had plenty of opportunities to go ahead and, following Juan Mata’s opener from the spot, equalise, but youngster Danny Loader couldn’t find the coolness required in front of goal. In contrast, a revived Romelu Lukaku rounded Anssi Jaakkola on the brink of half-time to double his side’s lead.
As ever, Sergio Romero proved his worth as Manchester United’s back-up goalkeeper with a string of impressive saves. Meanwhile, Matteo Darmian performed tremendously at centre-back alongside Phil Jones, despite being unfamiliar to the role. The midfield three of Scott McTominay, Fred and Andreas Pereira were competent, but tended to be flat and lacked Paul Pogba’s creative spark. Youngster Tahith Chong made a cameo, but numerous misplaced passes and his overall reticence made his appearance a rather anti-climactic one.
This was the general atmosphere of this game – anticlimactic. Following four successive wins in the Premier League, Manchester United were expected to dismantle and obliterate a struggling Championship outfit. Considering that Spurs annihilated Tranmere 7-0 on Friday evening, it highlighted the potential for goal-fests when Premier League meets league football.
Back to Business
Regardless, Reading were able to give a credible account of themselves. They sit five points adrift in the Championship’s relegation zone, but this encounter should encourage the Reading faithful. If Jose Gomes’ side are able to go toe-to-toe with Manchester United, there’s no reason why they won’t surge up the table. In previous seasons the Royals have been habitual to the play-off places, so today will hopefully be a reminder of their potential.
Meanwhile, Manchester United sit six points off the top four and will look to continue their resurgence against Spurs. The squad head off to Dubai for a week in the sunshine following an immaculate festive period. Although today was lacklustre, Solksjaer’s side march on in the FA Cup. Next up, Tottenham Hotspur, which will be a real test of the Norweigan’s mettle.